Friday, 8 February, 2019 - 2:00 pm

In an effort to better understand his Jewish constituents, the Mayor reached out to a popular Rabbi.

The Rabbi invited the Mayor to spend Shabbat at his home.

The Rabbi made Kiddush Friday night on a full cup of wine. Then he made a l’chaim (a toast to life) after the fish on some fine Scotch.

The main course came with Israeli wine. They said grace after a meal with another cup of wine.

The next day they made Kiddush on wine at the synagogue.

After the service, they ate at the Kiddush and made a few more l'chaims.

They went home and the Rabbi made Kiddush for his family on another cup of wine, some l'chaim after fish, nice single malt with the cholent stew and some more wine for grace after the meal. And then when it got dark, another cup of wine for Havdalah (end of Shabbat).

The Mayor said to the Rabbi, "I had a wonderful time! Thank you for sharing Shabbat with me. I still don't get why you can't turn the lights off, but I do understand why you don't drive!"

In this week Torah Portion Teruma it begins with: Speak to the children of Israel, and they shall take for Me a contribution; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My contribution.

There is an obvious anomaly here. “Have them take for me a contribution,” is a peculiar choice of words. The more appropriate expression would have been "they shall give Me a contribution,”

Many explanations have been presented over the ages. Let me present three.

The Midrash explains: Since G-d really owns everything, it is impossible to speak of giving Him anything. Giving usually implies I have ownership and I transfer the ownership to someone else. When we talk about the Master of the World, we don't use the expression "giving." Instead, we use the expression "taking." We are taking from G-d in order to give to G-d. “Take for me a contribution” means to take the contribution from me in order to give it to me.

There is another important message here. Giving is a form of taking. You are not giving me a contribution; G-d says. By giving for My causes, you are taking. Or as the Midrash famously puts it:

More than what benefactor does for a poor person, the poor person does for the benefactor.

When we give, we get much more. When we give, our lives are elevated to a higher, more dignified, more Divine plane. If one gives a person a donation, the money is a temporary thing. Perhaps it pays for the next meal; perhaps it pays for rent or tuition. It comes and goes. On the other hand, the person who 'gives,' he is receiving something eternal. He gives something to his soul that is priceless, he acquires a relationship with G-d that is timeless, and he received reward both in this world and the world to come that lasts for eternity.

This point is underscored the first time the Torah relates a story of giving. What is the first story of generosity in the Torah? It is when Abraham invites three guests to his tent, to relax under the shade, to eat and to drink. This is the first overt mention of an act of kindness in the Torah.

When we look at that story we see an anomaly. Three times in the story, the Torah repeats the phrase “taking.” "Let water be taken”. “I will take bread etc. What kind of expression is that? Abraham should have said: "I will give water”! “I will give bread!"

The answer, of course, is that Abraham is guiding his children for all future generations, that when you help someone else, you are not giving; you are taking. The greatest gift we can give ourselves is a life filled with love and caring toward other human beings. More than the host does for the guest, the guest does for the host.

This is true in our marriages as well: when a husband and wife are committed to giving to each other, they themselves are often surprised of how much they receive by the sheer act of giving to somebody outside of themselves. The love we give away is the only love we keep.

Or as Winston Churchill put it: We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

There is a lovely story about the great Victorian Anglo-Jew, Sir Moses Montefiore. Montefiore was one of the outstanding figures of the nineteenth century. A close friend of Queen Victoria and knighted by her, he became the first Jew to attain high office in the City of London. His philanthropy extended to both Jews and non-Jews, and on his one-hundredth birthday, The London Times devoted editorials to his praise. "He had shown," said the Times, "that fervent Judaism and patriotic citizenship are absolutely consistent with one another."

One reflection was particularly moving: Someone once asked him, "Sir Moses, what are you worth?" Moses thought for a while and named a figure. "But surely," said his questioner, "your wealth must be much more than that." With a smile, Sir Moses replied, "You didn't ask me how much I own. You asked me how much I am worth. So I calculated how much I have given to charity this year."

"You see," he said, "we are worth what we are willing to share with others."  

This, too, is what the Torah is teaching us with the expression, take a contribution for me. Whether a person gives to an individual or to an institution of G-d, he or she is really receiving as much, if not more, than he or she is giving.

I want to share with you a story that occurred last year.

An $8000 engagement ring of a Jerusalem woman who will be getting married next month accidentally fell unnoticed into the trash. When the bride-to-be realized her mistake, the family ran in a panic to the trash dumpster, only to discover that the trash had already been taken away by a garbage truck.

The bride’s distraught family called the municipality, which agreed to empty out the contents of the garbage truck by a city warehouse.

The bride’s sister posted a note on various neighborhood bulletin boards, begging Jerusalemites for their assistance in finding the ring–the garbage equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.

The sister implored: “An engagement ring worth 6000 pounds [$8,541] belonging to a bride who will be getting married next month has been lost. Please, if anyone would agree to come to search for it inside the garbage truck (it is definitely in there!) which is parked in Givat Shaul (a neighborhood in Jerusalem).”

Before long, news of the lost ring had spread across the internet. Dozens of volunteers spent hours searching through the contents of the garbage truck. It was amazing! Dozens of people volunteered their time and searched and searched to help a bride they do not know.

But, alas, to no avail. The ring was gone…

I could end the story here. I made my punch line. The showing up of these strangers is an inspiration. But the story does not end.

One jeweler, who heard of the bride’s anguish, offered to give her a replacement ring free of charge. He heard that she could not find the ring, and he said he would replace it for free.


I could end the story here. I made my second punch line.

But here is the end of the story.

This all happened on Thursday, February 4, 2018, On Friday, the following day, a man was walking by the trash dumpster in Geula neighborhood in Jerusalem. He discovered a ring beside the dumpster. But there was no name on it, so he didn’t know how to return it to its owner.

On Shabbat, a family member mentioned the poor bride’s story, and the man put two and two together.

After Shabbat, he returned the ring to the bride.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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